Pennsylvania resort chef builds life-size gingerbread house

By MARY PICKELS

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

FARMINGTON, Pa. — The sweet, gingery scent wafting across the lobby of Nemacolin Woodlands Resort’s Chateau LaFayette is enough to make a mouth water and a stomach rumble.

Visitors follow their noses to a vision of a walk-in bakery built from gingerbread, icing and candy.

The pastry team at the Fayette County resort, near Farmington, has for years constructed holiday houses, a train, even a castle out of gingerbread.

Its executive pastry chef Scott Tennant’s fifth such creation and the first one large enough for visitors to enter.

They can pop their heads through a window for a photo op, purchase a sweet or spicy treat and perhaps catch a baker decorating cookies for sale.

Tennant, 43, of Uniontown and his staff of 10 partnered with the resort’s carpentry shop to build a life-size version of the traditional holiday creation.

Visitors can “ooh” and “ahh” their way through the Fat Bird (Nemacolin’s logo and mascot) Bakery — 12 feet tall, 14 feet long and 12 feet deep — through New Year’s Day.

Each year during the week of Thanksgiving, the pastry chefs construct their creation in the Chateau lobby.

“Last year, we had kind of a ‘Grandma’s house’ display, a Cape Cod type (of house), but you couldn’t walk inside,” Tennant says.

The guests’ inspiration led to this year’s candy-coated bistro-type structure.

“Guests always come up and say that as soon as they walk into the lobby, they smell the gingerbread and crave it. They would say, ‘Oh, you should be selling gingerbread,'” he says.

Some visitors can’t resist trying to break off a sample from the exterior, which, Tennant says, is edible.

“Sometimes you will see a fingerprint in the piping, or candies missing and they haven’t fallen onto the floor,” he says.

Nemacolin’s carpenters began working on the shop’s wood base in early October.

“I just kind of give them a brief idea of what I’m thinking. They know how tall it can go, how much space they have. They take a lot of pride in what they do,” he says.

Since Nov. 16, Tennant and his staff have worked on the bakery nightly — totaling more than 600 hours — following their regular shifts.

He anticipates using 14 50-pound bags of flour, 18 50-pound bags of confectioners’ sugar and 1,000 pounds each of gingerbread and royal icing.

Tennant and his staff baked, sliced and “mortared” — with stiff, white frosting — as many as 2,000 gingerbread bricks for the bakery.

Earlier this week, he coated the backs of round gingerbread cookies, tinted green with food coloring, with gobs of frosting and pressed them onto the bakery’s frame.

Using an ordinary hand saw, he hacked notches into cookies and neatly sliced the rounds to the correct size.

Packed pastry bag in hand, he piped icing around window and doorway arches, accenting them with strips of red, white and green Nerds and red Super Ropes.

Round red- and green-striped peppermint candies were pressed into the fluffy “snow.”

“The worst thing about those is they are all individually wrapped,” Tennant says.

Guests paused to watch his progress, and a little girl ducked inside, grinning beneath the ceiling’s twinkling white lights.

Tennant, icing on his cheek, gingerbread dust flying from his saw, smiled and went back to work.